We Need to Change the Way We View Our Pets, Here’s How

Owning a pet has only become commonplace since the late 19th century. Before that, animals were seen as part of the workforce rather than sentimental additions to the human family unit. Be that as it may, for the large majority of us, pets are very much the norm.

We’ve grown up with domesticated animals and in many ways, they really are our best friends and truest companions. (It’s even been proven that having a pet offers health benefits.) But in spite of our seemingly close bond with them, there’s still a disconnect.

It starts with the words we use: we see ourselves as ‘pet owners’ and we refer to certain species (goldfish, birds, etc.) as ‘starter pets’. It reveals itself in our actions too: we’ll ‘tug’ on a dog’s leash to get them to move or ‘push’ a cat off the sofa or coffee table.

It’s not that there’s any intended malice on our part. If probed, those of us with pets will profess our love and adoration for our non-human companions. This is especially evident in our behavior when they’re sick. We’ll rush them to the vet the minute we see that all is not well.

Why Then Is There This Disconnect and What Can We Do to Solve It?

We need to change the way we view animals from ‘something’ we own to ‘someone’ we’ve chosen to share our space with. Some ethicists believe we should stop keeping pets entirely, but this is perhaps a bit extreme. Not to mention impractical.

What would happen to the millions of animals who are currently in our care, for example? A better alternative is simply to change our mindset. Animals are sentient beings with rich emotional lives and consciousness. It’s time we viewed and treated them as such.

In his book The Emotional Lives of Animals, award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff blends extraordinary stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger and love with the latest scientific research. Given the evidence, it’s hard to dispute the fact that humans have been underestimating animal intelligence basically forever.

Educating Our Kids

Young boy feeding puppy

It starts with educating our children. All animals, regardless of size or life expectancy, should be viewed and treated with equal respect. We need to teach our kids that a pet comes with a lot more responsibility than a new toy.

In her book Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets, author Jessica Pierce stresses that bringing a companion animal into one’s life is an ethical commitment that should not be taken lightly. It’s incumbent upon us as parents and adults to make sure our children really get this.

If they want a pet, they need to be old enough to care for it (feeding, bathing, walking, etc.). So often, parents end up taking care of the animal once the novelty has worn off. By making them wait until they’re old enough and talking through the details of what it means to have a pet, we’ll instill a sense of responsibility in our kids.

We also need to help them understand that just like people, animals also sometimes need quiet time. If they’re sleeping or indicate in some other way that they’d prefer to be left alone, children must be cognizant and respectful of that.

Talk Through the Details

All too often we adults are just as likely as children are to get caught up in the idea of getting a puppy or kitten. We don’t stop to think about what that actually means, both on a day to day basis and in the long term.

Do we have the time, space and financial resources available to care for the animal? What will happen if we need to move home? We need to take into account the fact that finding a pet-friendly apartment isn’t always that easy.

Investing the Time

person walking dog

If we do decide to go ahead and get a pet, we have to be fully invested and onboard with what that entails. For example, having a dog means daily walks regardless of how we’re feeling. These walks are a wonderful way to help them socialize with other dogs and it’s also an opportunity for us to bond with our friend. We need to be fully present though, so it’s a good idea to leave the phone at home.

Their independent nature makes it easy for us to leave them to their own devices, but cats enjoy feeling loved and wanted as well. We need to make the time and space to bond with our companions. One way to do that is to give them a massage.

Sharing Space

We need to keep in mind that we’ve chosen to invite the animal into our lives. They don’t have any choice in the matter. As with humans, there must be boundaries, but we need to make sure they feel welcome and part of the family.

For example, apartments must be cat friendly, dogs should be given their own bed or basket and fish bowls must be strategically placed so the inhabitants have a good view of their surroundings.

If we get a new puppy, it’s up to us to keep our stuff out of harm’s way. At least in the beginning, while they’re still learning what’s okay to chew on and what isn’t. House training an animal takes patience, but it can be done.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Shelter for homeless dogs, waiting for a new owner

With so many animals living out their lives in cramped shelters, adopting a pet should be a no brainer. (You only have to look at these happy pets on their adoptiversaries to see why.) But because the media perpetuates the idea that animals are commodities, people are still choosing to invest in pedigreed or exotic pets instead.

Again, it starts with educating our kids. If we take them to the pet store to choose a pet, it gives them the idea that animals are something to be owned. Whereas, if we take them to the shelter and explain the concept of adopting a pet, they’ll understand that an animal is not a toy.


With more people investing in things like holistic pet food, pet health insurance and pet-friendly travel, it’s little wonder the pet industry is booming. On the downside, humans are also of the opinion that playing dress-up with animals is okay.

We need to discern what our pets actually need (toys, food, a place to sleep, etc.) and steer away from items that are clearly fashion accessories. As it is, the animals in our lives have very little autonomy, putting them in silly outfits for our own amusement is only adding to the problem.

Animals are beautiful creatures, wholly unconditional in their love for us. We need to treat them with the respect they deserve. At least as an entry point, that means dropping the notion that we own them.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Freya H
Freya H1 years ago

Elizabeth H, I know what you mean. Years ago a stray wandered into my house as if to say "You're my human now." About three weeks later she had five kittens in my bathroom cabinet. I found all of the little ones responsible forever homes and had mama fixed. Rest in peace, Ragamuffin, and thank you for all your love and affection.

Paulo Reeson
Paulo R1 years ago


Paulo Reeson
Paulo R1 years ago


Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O1 years ago

You have offered very sound advice in your article, thanks. Just one point is that, people like myself, along with may others have pedigree or purebred dogs. My point is that these dogs are often surrendered, due to work commitments, puppy mill closed down, not suitable for showing...whatever! So if people like us choose to home these dogs, we are assumed to have done the wrong thing? We adopt and don't shop too!

Mike R
Mike R1 years ago

Our pets are our children. Thanks

Mike R
Mike R1 years ago

Our pets are our children. Thanks

Margie FOURIE1 years ago

My animals allow me to live here in their house.

iloshechka A
iloshechka A1 years ago


Chad A
Chad Anderson1 years ago

Thank you!